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North Carolina Licensing Requirements for Rooftop Solar Installations

House Bill 589, which was enacted last year, contained two sections that should facilitate more rooftop solar installation:  Part VI created a mechanism for leasing solar energy facilities; and Part VIII created a solar rebate program.  Even before this legislation, North Carolina was one of the fastest growing solar power markets in America.   Accordingly, many out-of-state businesses are looking at solar energy opportunities in the state.   In addition to meeting North Carolina’s foreign business practice qualifications and implementing appropriate levels and types of insurance coverage, what other North Carolina licenses and approvals are necessary for an out-of-state installer of rooftop solar power systems?

Unless the property owner plans to lease the solar-generated power to others (the rules for which can be found here), solar rooftop installers need not seek approval from the North Carolina Utilities Commission.   Solar installers are, however, required to comply with the same rules applicable to other types of building contractors in North Carolina.   Installation of solar panels falls squarely within the definition of “electrical work” under the applicable North Carolina statute, so an electrical contractor license is required.  There are different levels of electrical contractor licensing required, depending on the cost of a particular job.  What is less clear, however, is the need for a North Carolina general contractor license.  North Carolina requires a general contractor license for projects costing in excess of $30,000, subject to a variety of exceptions.  One such statutory exception is that a general contractor license is not required for “electrical work.”   An open issue is whether the applicable statutes and administrative regulations require a general contractors license if the general building work (e.g. improving roof support or removing headers to run electrical wiring) is only minor/ancillary to the installation of the solar assembly (which is clearly “electrical work”).  Following consultation with the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors and the North Carolina State Board of Examiners of Electrical Contractors, and given the relatively severe penalties for performing general contractor work in North Carolina without an applicable license (e.g., voiding of the contract and non-payment by the consumer), we recommend for most proposed solar installations that our clients obtain both a North Carolina general contractor license and an applicable North Carolina electrical contractor license.

In terms of incentives for growth of rooftop solar installations in North Carolina, while the state legislature allowed state tax subsidies for solar installations to expire after the 2016 tax year, Duke Energy introduced a rebate program earlier this year for its customers installing solar power systems.

For more information about these or related issues, please contact Jonathan Fine at jonathan.fine@smithmoorelaw.com or Gray Styers@ gray.styers@smithmoorelaw.com